The battle for the final Europa League slot went down to the wire, reports Richard Whittle...
The final day of the Serie A season produced the sort of drama that had been missing from most of the run-in. Coming into the last round the only issue to be resolved was the final Europa League spot.
Torino, Parma, Milan and Hellas Verona were all mathematically in with a shout although Toro held a slim advantage: one point ahead of Parma with Milan and Hellas a further point back, the Turin side knew that a win would seal it no matter what their rivals did.
Generally, in these situations, the opposition will play a supporting role not wishing to spoil anyone’s party, leaving it to the team with something to play for with their destiny in their own hands. In short, the match is there to be lost, not won – and Torino were confident, going into their trip to Fiorentina on the back of an seven-game unbeaten run.
Turin was set for a double celebration: with champions Juventus having already topped a century of points with their afternoon stroll past Cagliari, Torino could return to European football for the first time in two decades (excluding the Intertoto Cup in 2002). But by the evening, their dreams were left in tatters in the most dramatic fashion.
Drawing 2-2 in stoppage time at the Artemio Franchi, Torino were given a golden chance to reach Europe when they were awarded a penalty. The self-assured figure of Alessio Cerci strode forward to take it against his old club, but the wide-boy of Italian football failed to convert.
Although well-struck, Cerci’s effort was too central and goalkeeper Antonio Rosati was able to parry the ball away to safety. The mop-headed winger’s tears of despair at the final whistle summed up the immensity of his miss, which consigned Toro to the role of nearly-men once more.
Cerci: potential unfulfilled
Cerci had scored five of his 13 goals this season from the spot, but then again his career has been one of expectations weighing too heavily on his shoulders. There had been plenty of youthful promise: he made the breakthrough to Fabio Capello's Roma team in 2004 at the age of 16, nicknamed “Henry” after Thierry the flying Frenchman.
However, failure to fulfil the hype (and a reported lack of appetite for hard work) saw him loaned to Brescia, Pisa and Atalanta to begin his nomadic wanderings around the provinces and when it became clear that his seven-year relationship with the capital was at an end he headed to Fiorentina.
There was to be no renaissance in Tuscany as one exasperating performance followed another, coupled with a the unwanted tag of a bad-boy who disrupted the dressing room. However, last summer he was reunited at Torino with Giampiero Ventura, who had maximised Cerci's potential at Pisa, and the speed merchant with the dazzling feet has enjoyed his best season yet.
Until Sunday night it was all good news, with a place in Italy’s World Cup squad also beckoning and hero status amongst the Toro fans assured – but in the end it was another long-suffering player who finally got his moment in the sun.
Amauri rises to the occasion
Parma knew their destiny was out of their hands and with over 50 minutes gone against already-relegated Livorno it was still stalemate at the Tardini stadium. Roberto Donadoni turned to the bench and picked out another hirsute frontman who had once been a promising prospect: Amauri.
Twenty minutes later, the rangy striker had scored twice to ensure that the Gialloblu had at least kept to their side of the bargain by taking all three points as they waited for news on events in Florence. Amauri’s ecstatic jig in front of the stand when word filtered through that Parma had created the real success story of the year highlighted that football loves a trier and the Brazilian-born forward is certainly that.
Scapegoated at Juventus, who had forked over €30m to Palermo in 2008, he seemed set to be a big-money flop who had lost all belief in his ability. But Amauri had his career resurrected by Roberto Donadoni, who knows all about rejection, having been jettisoned by Italy ahead of the 2010 World Cup and then given little time to build at Napoli.
Donadoni told Amauri that he would be used as an impact player, called upon when Parma needed to throw men forward or wanted a target man to hold the ball up – and so it has proved, with 11 of his 20 appearances this year as a substitute.
Last night Amauri answered the call again and exorcised all those years of hurt – while down the road in Florence, Cerci was facing the sort of humility that football can deliver to even the most confident of players.